Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When You Know Better You Do Better

Maya Angelou's saying "when you know better you do better" has been playing in my head quite a bit lately as I prepare to close out 2011. I feel as if I know what I should be doing, yet I don't do it. I keep doing the same things over and over again, but I expect different results. Isn't that the very definition of insanity? I'm not sure how many times I need to hear that my life mirrors my thoughts and that in order to attract good things into my life I must focus on "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable" (Philippians 4:8). But even though I know this, I find it so difficult to stop those thoughts that make me feel bad. For example this morning when I started to feel irritated about all of the things that I needed to do today and how little time I had, in stead of immediately taking note of how I felt and changing my thoughts to more positive ones, I rode the wave for a while. Actually it felt good, in a perverse kind of way,  to be in a bad mood. I allowed myself to wallow in this funk until I finally came to my senses and said, "stop! I'm going to make this a good day!"

I think the reason that I find this so difficult is because it really takes a great deal of effort. It's hard work thinking about what I'm thinking about! When I just go with the emotion, there's no effort on my part. But when I'm constantly checking my thoughts, I really have to be on top of things.

It even goes beyond what I'm thinking to what I actually say. Every snarky thought that I have that eventually works its way out of my mouth has the potential to destroy me. It seems so harmless to say something catty about someone else, but when I do it causes harm not only to the other person but to me as well because I create negativity and invite those same unkind words to be said about me.

Probably the hardest thing to do is to just remain silent or to walk away when I'm in a situation where I feel compelled to say something negative or critical about another. There's one person in my life who I really cannot stand. Truthfully I cannot find one good thing about her. No matter how hard I try I cannot think of one redeeming quality she possesses. To make matters worse I don't know anyone who likes her either so it's easy for me to feel justified in badmouthing her. But the thing is that I do know better. I know that words hurt just as much, if not worse, than sticks and stones because the pain lasts so much longer.

Yes, in my opinion she may be vile, but she is a child of God and He loves her.  I know this, but I don't want to like her. I don't wanna! I don't wanna! It's so much better to think bad things about her and to feel superior to her because of the stupid things she does and says, but since I know better I have to do better. I have to keep my mouth closed and my opinion to myself.

So here's the deal. From now until the January 1, 2012, I'm going to do what I know I'm supposed to do.  I'm starting with watching my thoughts and my words and then moving onto other things I know I should be doing. I invite you to take this journey with me. I won't promise it will be easy, but I do promise we'll be better for doing it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Eternity is Too Darn Long if You're Unhappy

Recently I took my teenage daughter Lyndsay and my niece Najah  to see the latest installment of the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn. They were beside themselves with excitement about the romantic union of Bella and Edward and the happy ending they would surely have. Lyndsay has read all of the books and can't understand why I don't share her enthusiasm. Before the movie began, I explained to them that    although the books are well written,  I cut my teeth on Anne Rice, so I'm used to vampires that do something. At any rate, the girls were nearly swooning, so caught up in the rapturous love of these two characters on the big screen that they tuned me out. When the movie was over Lyndsay turned to me and asked, "Mom, wasn't that the best?"

Maybe I read too much into things, but I couldn't get past the fact that Bella was destined for a life of heartache and misery with Edward and here's my evidence:

1. In order to love Edward, she has to give up everything-including her soul.
Yes, it may seem exciting to be so enthralled in a relationship that you forget about your family and friends for a while, but eventually that gets old. Why should a beautiful, young woman have to turn her back on everything she is and everything she knows in order to get the guy? Healthy relationships are about compromise, but the only one I saw giving in was Bella.

2. When things got rough, Bella had to go through it alone.
Okay, Edward did finally come around, but at first when Bella began to have complications Edward emotionally abandoned her. She was forced to make sense of a world spinning out of control all by herself. I've been married long enough to know that sometimes the only thing holding you to your spouse are the promises you made before God on your wedding day. For richer and poorer, through sickness and in health, for better or for worse...Marriage is hard work and if the woman has to do the heavy lifting all by herself she can get resentful.  If a woman can only count on her man to be there when the rose petals are falling and the frame on the bed is being broken, then there are some definite problems on the horizon.

3. Edward was non-communicative.
He was the freakin' mind reader, not her! Imagine how frustrating life would be with your man if he never, ever told you what he felt. Admittedly,  Edward did have some romantic one liners, but occasionally I would imagine that Bella would need for him to talk to her during the difficult times and help her to process the horrible things that were happening in her life.

4. Ex-boyfriend drama.
E-Nuff said!

5.The possibility of a strained relationship with her daughter because her ex has 'imprinted' on her.
Maybe it's just me, but I don't want any of my exes to be doing anything with my daughter. Ever!

I know. I know. This is only a movie, but it did prove  to be a teachable moment. I need my daughter and niece to understand that they don't have to make foolish choices because they think they are in love and that true love doesn't consume a woman so there is nothing of her original self to recognize. I also want them to know that they need to graduate high school, get an education, take care of themselves for a while before they even consider running off to get married to someone like Edward. And maybe, I'm just way too serious, but I want them to avoid any man that makes them give up on an eternity with God in order to spend some time with him.

I guess you can imagine that after this lecture, Najah and Lyndsay jokingly vowed never to go to the movies with me again!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Nobody's Princess

     When our daughter was younger, my husband would make a big deal each year of taking her to a Father/Daughter Ball. In preparation, she and I would go shopping for a special dress and I would do her hair and get her ready for her big night out. My husband would have a flower for her and would make huge, sweeping gestures of chivalry. While they were away, they danced and ate chicken fingers and drank punch (as evidenced by the pictures) and she was the center of his attention for the entire night. She was his little princess.
     On the other 364 nights, he still managed to make her feel special. When he would come home from work, he would pick her up and twirl her around the room, and when he had to travel out of town for business, he always made it a point to call around bedtime to say prayers with her and to let her know how much he loved and missed her. There were times when I knew he had work to do, but instead of doing it, he would sit her on his lap and read to her or crawl down on the floor-bad knees and all-and play her favorite game as many times as she wished.
     When she entered high school he bought her a diamond ring for her birthday. The reason, he explained, is that he wanted to be the first to buy his little girl diamonds. He did not want 'some joker' to tempt her with nice things. Basically he wanted her to say, "I'm not impressed. My Daddy already did that for me!"
    One night I was having dinner with a friend and she and I were talking about how our daughter's relationships with their fathers were so different than our relationships with our own fathers. Both of us had been raised by single mothers with fathers who drifted in and out of our lives. That night we talked about how our lives would have been different had our father's assumed their responsibility and been present, physically or financially. We really made ourselves sad talking about the longing we grew up with wishing that our fathers would love us enough to stay  (or pay). We talked about the predators who attempted to come near us because there was not a man in the house to shoo them away and we talked about how it affected our adult lives knowing the first men to break our hearts were our fathers.
   Later I tried to explain the conversation to my husband and I told him that while growing up, I never got a chance to be anyone's princess. I told him that I never attended any Father/Daughter activities and I was always left sitting alone when the other children's Dads came along. And then I shared with him that before I met him, I didn't feel there was any man who loved me unconditionally and was just happy that I was alive.
    My husband is an eternal optimist and he always sees the beauty in things, so instead of allowing me to grow more maudlin by agreeing with me, he asked me a simple question: "Weren't you your grandfather's princess?" Truthfully, I had never even considered that. I was so focused on what I didn't have growing up that I forgot to be grateful for what I did have. I have a grandfather who loves me. I mean really, really loves me. I have always been his 'Chelle and he never lets too much time pass without saying "I love you." No, he didn't attend the Father/Daughter activities with me, but he did pick me up from school and take me for ice cream. He may not have spoiled me rotten with all of the things I wanted, but I always had what I needed and I was spoiled with love.
     My father still slips in and out of my life and I am no longer resentful because I know that God kept him out of my life for a reason. I still love him because the Bible says to honor our mother and our father, but I adore my grandfather. Granddaddy has grown older and because I live so far away from him I do not get to see him often. Because he cannot see well anymore, I have to wait for someone to be in the room with him when I call in order to hand him the phone. It's funny because whenever he hangs up he always says "Daddy loves you." Of course he realizes that I am his granddaughter, but although I've never asked him, I think he intentionally assumed the role of father in my life because my own did not want to be bothered. He had other, more pressing things to do.
     There are so many good men out there who are amazing fathers. They show their children, especially their little girls, how a man is supposed to treat them. They respect all women because they recognize that every woman is, indeed, someone's daughter. I applaud you. But to the men who are too busy or too selfish to realize the priceless gift you've been given and who do not treat your daughter like a little princess, shame on you! You will never get the time back and if you hurt her it will ripple through every other relationship she has.
     And to the grown women who never had a chance to be anyone's princess, that's okay because the past is over and it cannot be relived. Beginning today be grateful for whoever God placed in your life (or omitted) love yourself and be a Queen!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

My Friends

"A friend is someone who is there for you when he'd rather be somewhere else." 
                                  Len Wein

     Early Saturday morning when I arrived in Gainesville, my friend Scott was waiting for me with a Starbuck's Caramel Macchiato and huge hug. Although he probably had other things to do, he spent the day in the bookstore with me laughing and people watching. We weren't necessarily laughing at people, but some of those diehard Gator fans were really special. I'm just saying...
     At 12:21 when the Gators were about to kickoff against Vanderbilt, I just knew Scott would abandon me, but he offered to buy me lunch and we spent the next few hours laughing some more over deep dish pizza and strawberry beignets. 
     It wasn't all laughter, though, because after lunch we drove to the gravesite of our friend Mimi McLendon who died of lung cancer earlier this year. Mimi was only 44 and never smoked a day in her life. As we lay pink roses on Mimi's grave, we talked about how tomorrow is not promised and how important it is to tell the people in our lives how much we love them while we have them. 

"It takes a long time to grow an old friend."
                                  -John Leonard

     When I arrived back in Daytona, I had just enough time to take a shower and change before heading off to my 20th class reunion. When I walked into the hotel, I was greeted with hugs and kisses from my classmates who attended Bethune-Cookman with me two decades ago. Although at first I could not remember all of the names, I remembered the faces, but more importantly I remembered the times we had shared together in the past. Here we were healthy and happy and living our dreams that we had only begun to visualize as bright-eyed college graduates twenty years ago. Each of us had walked across the stage at Commencement promising to uphold the legacy of our school's founder, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. We did not take the school's motto "Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve" lightly and each of us has committed ourselves in one way or another to being what our classmate Kelvin described as  "a bridge for those who come behind us."
     The love and respect in the room was palpable and I left feeling so grateful that God placed me at that little school all those years ago and allowed me to make friends with such amazing men and women. I left knowing that the bonds of friendship would only grow stronger as time passed.
     When we were in school together, Dr. Oswald P. Bronson was the president and he always addressed the students and faculty with two words..."My Friends"... I don't think he realized the power of what he was saying. Those two little words told us that we mattered; that we were seen; that we were worthy enough, loved enough, important enough to be called a friend.
"Your friend is the one who knows all about you, and still likes you."
                             Elbert Hubard

     My doorbell just rang as I am writing this. It was my new friend and neighbor Sheila. I had called her earlier and awakened her from a deep sleep. The truth was I had run out of the vitamins she had turned me onto and I wanted them right then. You see, I am an only child and at times I am spoiled and  impatient and forgetful. Sheila was not mad at me and got me what I needed as soon as she could. She even gave me more than I asked for. She didn't stop loving me because I am impatient.
     My friend Dee's birthday was around Labor Day and I am just getting her card in the mail. Instead of being mad at me for being forgetful, she sent me a text  telling me she was craving Bahama Breeze and was going to treat herself to dinner with the gift certificate I had slipped into the card and just a few moments ago I received a phone call from my friend Winnie. She didn't call to talk because she knows I spend Sundays writing, but she wanted to share something funny with me. We laughed and then hung up. She respects that I am busy and even if two months or two years pass before we talk again we will pick up just where we left off. To me, that's friendship. 

"Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.

     If nothing else, this weekend has reminded me that I am nothing without my friends. Friends like Paula, Gina and Kender who pick me up and brush me off and push me back out there one more time. And friends like Natalie who when I get discouraged and say "I'm never going to be a famous writer," remind me of Jeremiah 29:11. And then there are those friends like Mia, Yolanda and so may others who I am just reconnecting with on Facebook. I am so happy that our paths have crossed in life. 
     I am grateful for those who I call and who call me "friend." This world would be a lonely, scary place if I did not have each of you with me. I love you! And for those of you who I still have yet to meet, when we encounter each other, let's smile, embrace and then say with affection: "My friend!"